Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Pro/Contra: Has a DM to please his players?

I'll try something new today: a pro/contra post. The idea is to look at two sides of an argument and maybe spurn an open dialogue where more pro/contra arguments are collected in the comments. Let's see how it goes ...

The Issue:

The Dungeon Master is (arguably?) the person investing the most into a role playing game. He knows the rules, he prepares the sessions appropriately, he puts in the hours to organize everyone. So how fair is it to say he also has to cater to the players' whims? Has a DM to please his players to keep the game alive?


Yes, he has to do exactly that. The most obvious argument here is that the players would leave the game otherwise towards greener pastures (comparison to cattle unintended ...). But that'd be short sighted. The proper argument, in my opinion, would be that DMing a game is not about the story that is happening at the table, it is providing a service. As a referee he has a very specific position in the game he is offering. What he actually wants is the wrong question. To be honest, him wanting something other than what he decided to do in the first place (i.e.: refereeing a game), is a good indication that he is not right for being the DM in a role playing game and he should maybe start writing a novel instead or be a player himself. And if the players don't want pirates (or whatever) in the game, he'd better oblige, right?

Somebody has a point here ... [source]


No, the DM is not a entertainment system for the players. He is as well part of the game as the players are, just in the necessary position to actually make role playing games work. Yes, there is a clear distinction between a player and a DM. The players decide the course of action, the system decides the outcome and the DM interprets and communicates said outcome. In this clear distinction is lots of room for the players to do what they want and the DM also getting the game he wants. There are things a group has to be on the same page about, like genre and system, for instance. There might even some no-goes in a game, but the idea that something like that is only for the players to decide needs to die a slow and horrible death.
A DM needs to be at least an equal partner in those things. It's also worth pointing out that no player has a right to keep his character or even to develop and advance said character as he wishes. Failure and Death are integral parts of a role playing game. So players, too, have a position in a game and there is a only promise that character can get mighty and powerful. Demanding a certain outcome or development in a game or thinking that it is the DM's fault if it doesn't happen a certain way, is not only juvenile but also not within a player's rights (or, as per the rules, in the DMs power, for that matter). You couldn't even play a board game with an attitude like that.

So that's that. I'm sure there is more to both arguments, but leaving this open (and faulty!) for discussion is part of the point, I guess. Please feel free to add and argue about the issue and arguments above. [Edit:] There are already some great comments connected to that post, but you might also want to read here and here for some more complete thoughts on the topic. It furthermore has +Adam Muszkiewicz (somewhat) expanding on it over here and Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque asks the right questions here after I asked the wrong ones.


  1. Should a DM cater to the wants and whims of the players?

    Pro: there is no game without t the players. Say for example the players want to play pirates and the DM says, “Nope we are playing giant Mecha vs Kaiju, because IM the GM and that’s that.” I can bet there will not be a game for very long. Some catering must be done, some consensus about what is going to be [played needs to be reached or the game will fall apart.
    Moving past that lets say the consensus has been reached, we are playing pirates! Once the game is rolling along the GM should cater to the players desires as a method to keep them invested in the game. They want bigger cannon? Well the GM should make those cannon available. The players want a better ship, get them one. Keeps the game moving, keep the story going, right?

    So I wrote that but I don’t believe much of it.
    Do not pander to players wants. Certainly give them the ability to get things they want through their characters own actions. You want bigger guns for your pirate ship? Steal them, deal with the fall out. Or find a foundry that can make better guns, commission them, and find a way to pay for them. The players can find a path to the things they want, and once they get those things the sense of accomplishment is what will keep them coming back. If the gm blatantly panders to the players in an effort to keep them “happy” the players will be less happy in the long run. The game will eventually fall apart.

    1. Thanks for playing along, Mark! For a minute I believed you there in the beginning :) But it actually shows why I think it's a very tricky question. I agree completely with that second half. Part of the game definitely is to make it a challenge to keep people involved in the long run.

  2. The DM has to be in charge, games don't make themselves! If on one day the players end the session deciding to go confront Big Bad Bloodspitter in his bugbear lair, and then decides that despite the fact that the DM spent all week prepping the said dungeon, that they don't want to do that anymore and would rather go sailing, that is DM abuse, and somebody is going to get every book that I own thrown at their head, and I own a LOT of books.

    There is an agreement between DM and Player, one bound in honesty. If the players aren't feeling an adventure, they need to tell me, just like I tell them when I'm not feeling it.

    1. Thanks, Ripper! "DM abuse" made me laugh :) And you are right, it is basically about communication.


Recent developments made it necessary to moderate posts again. Sorry about that, folks.